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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 16:03 GMT
South Korea's web guerrillas

By Caroline Gluck
BBC correspondent in Seoul

Oh Yeon-ho, a softly spoken bespectacled man, may not look like a guerrilla fighter, but that is how he sees himself and many others of his generation.

They are called the 386 generation in South Korea - people in their 30s, educated in the 1980s and born in the 1960s.

"My generation, the 386 generation, were in the streets fighting in the 80s against the military dictatorship. Now, 20 years later, we are combat-ready with our internet," he said at his office in downtown Seoul.

"We really want to be part of forming public opinion - and all of us, all of the 386 generation are now deployed with the internet, ready to fight."

Oh Yeon-ho
Oh Yeon-ho: Revolutionising South Korea's journalism
Three years ago, Mr Oh turned to the internet in his battle to create a new form of journalism in South Korea.

The country's media, once stifled under decades of military dictatorship, is still today predominantly conservative and owned by influential business and political figures.

Today, his internet newspaper OhmyNews is one of the country's most powerful news services.

Its reports on the deaths of two South Korean schoolgirls, run down by an American armoured military vehicle last June, prompted one reader to call for demonstrations.

The idea snowballed, and led to some of the largest displays of anti-American sentiment in the country in recent years.

The paper also played a part in helping to swing public opinion behind Roh Moo-hyun during December's presidential election campaign.

At that time, OhmyNews registered as many as 20 million hits a day, although it has now settled down to around 15 million hits.

The concept of our paper is that all citizens can participate
Oh Yeon-ho

Mr Oh sees the outcome of the election as a victory for the alternative media in South Korea.

"In the past, the conservative papers in Korea could - and did - lead public opinion. They had the monopoly. They were against Roh Moo-hyun's candidacy. But OhmyNews supported the Roh Moo-hyun phenomenon, with all the netizens participating.

"In our battle between the conservative media and the netizens of Korea, the netizens won," he said.

New media

The internet is where many South Koreans, particularly the younger generation, get their news first, bypassing the traditional media.

The country is one of the most wired in the world, with nearly 70% of households enjoying broadband connections.

There are now several internet newspapers in South Korea, but OhmyNews is the most popular - and one of the most radical.

It was launched by Mr Oh, who used to write for radical underground magazines three years ago.

"I launched OhmyNews on 22 February, in the year 2000 at 2.22pm. That was my farewell to the journalism of the 20th Century," he said, smiling.


His goal was to change the news culture into one in which the public was involved in producing, as well as reading, the news.

"It was a one-way street before", said Mr Oh. "The concept of our paper is that all citizens can participate," he said.

OhmyNews offices
OhmyNews has just 41 staff, but 23,000 'citizen reporters'

His goal succeeded. The paper has a professional staff of just 41, and 23,000 "citizen reporters" who send in news reports on just about anything, and determine OhmyNews' editorial policy.

Articles are rigorously fact-checked by in-house staff; but only a handful are re-written or republished, and just two articles have ended up in legal action in the courts.

Pay for the "citizen reporters" varies from nothing to just under $20, but the top stories will be carried with the writer's by-line and the knowledge that millions of people could be reading their article.

The paper's staff are not resting on their laurels, however. They want to broaden their audience, strengthen their network of citizens reporters and encourage more video and picture contributions.

They are proud of their success and growing influence.

OhmyNews boasts a string of scoops, including recent revelations that the Hyundai group paid hundreds of millions of dollars secretly to North Korea just before the historic inter-Korean summit three years ago.

It has also won battles in getting previously closed press rooms at government ministries opened up to wider media outlets.

And just in case you're wondering about the name? OhmyNews was a play on the phrase "Oh my God" which became a catchphrase of a popular comedian.

"It wasn't connected to my surname," laughed Mr Oh.

"I just wanted to show that the name underlined my belief that all citizens can be reporters; and the word Oh - its like you are surprised, when you see something that really has news value and you get excited about it," he said.

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